Imagine yourself on a long journey in the desert by the Dead Sea. For much of the year at the lowest place on earth, the temperatures can reach 100F (38C) by noon. The unshaded desert sun is surprisingly intense and unrelenting.
By midday simply breathing in this heat can feel like your face is in front of a hot hair dryer.
Even more so, the air itself feels oddly sticky with a strange mixture of humidity and airborne minerals from the Dead Sea. With a quick glance at the Dead Sea, the water itself has an oily sheen to it. Since it’s ten times saltier than the oceans, drinking it is out of the question.
Even a dip in the bath-temperature water isn’t refreshing, as it leaves you feeling hotter and stickier then before you got in.
Keeping your eyes on the road in front of you, the sand-colored landscape looks like it goes on forever. In a region that Mark Twain said reminded him of “death and funerals”, the towering cliffs opposite the Dead Sea are beautiful yet unforgiving.
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Yet there are rumors that up ahead is a hidden canyon with a fresh water source – a literal oasis in the desert.
As you arrive and begin to wander back the canyon floor, searching for a needed respite, the steep sandstone cliffs start to provide shade from the afternoon sun. The precious sound of running water can be faintly heard, echoing between the foothills.
The combination of the steep shaded overhangs and freshwater springs create a natural ‘air-conditioning’, kept in by the surrounding hills and becomes even more obvious the further you walk into the canyon.
Something else becomes noticeable that hasn’t been seen for miles: LIFE.
Green shrubs. Plants. A few wildflowers. And among them – birds, rock badgers, and even ibex (mountain goats), curiously peaking over ledges and around boulders to see who is coming their way. Following the sound of water, it gets louder and louder, and the vegetation gets thicker and thicker.
A waterfall appears, the first of several in this canyon, pouring into freshwater pools. Getting under these cool and refreshing falls is like a shower from heaven, washing away the desert’s sweaty film.
And then, the further you walk back this canyon, the higher you climb. And. the higher you climb, the greener and lusher the flora becomes, and the more spectacular the waterfalls.
With several large caves hidden in the canyon walls, this could be home for a while.
This place isn’t a dream or mirage in the desert. This is En Gedi.
The first time En Gedi is mentioned in the Bible is under a different name: Hazazon Tamar (meaning:pruning of palm trees).
It is noted that the Amorites lived here before Chedorlaomer, a king from the east, conquered them in the days of Abraham (Genesis 14:7).
It was also where the vast armies of the Moabites, Ammonites and Meunites all gathered to war against Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 20:2, before Judah sent the singers and worshippers out in front of the army to meet them. In Song of Solomon, the Beloved is compared to the vineyards of En Gedi, speaking of her beauty (Song of Solomon 1:14).
However, En Gedi’s most notable resident was David and his men when they were hiding from Saul (1 Samuel 23:29).
“Now when Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines, he was told, saying, “Behold, David is in the wilderness of En Gedi.” Then Saul took three thousand chosen men from all Israel and went to seek David and his men in front of the Rocks of the Wild Goats.” 1 Samuel 24:1-2
David and his men had been hunted on the run for a while and needed a rest. They narrowly escaped Saul’s grasp in the city of Kielah before fleeing to the wilderness.
Later, in the wilderness of Maon (south of the Dead Sea), David was almost surrounded by Saul’s army, when suddenly King Saul got alerted that the Philistines were attacking Israel elsewhere, so he abandoned his hunt.
Imagine the physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion as David and his men were fleeing north through the lowest desert on earth, and up the west side of the Dead Sea to En Gedi.
Put yourself in David’s sandals and reread the first paragraphs of this article again. Sometimes we read the Scriptures as if they were legends, but they are real, historical events that took place in real locations.
What was this journey like for David? What pressures was he feeling? Where was he going to find food, water, shelter and rest for his weary and starving band of warrior misfits, who have been running for their lives?
En Gedi was the perfect answer.
The temperatures drop just enough, there is unlimited fresh water to drink, to bathe and to relax in the shade. Even the “barbeque” of fresh meat (the wild game) came to your waters to drink! The “salads” (green vegetation) grew around the edges.
The waterfalls are simply gorgeous to gaze at or listen to while drifting off to sleep. The hidden caves provided some protection and shelter from the harsh outside elements or from prying eyes.
In this context, take a moment to read Psalm 57. This is where David wrote it and perhaps also other psalms. The sentences “As the deer pants for the water…” and “You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies” take on a whole new meaning when you visit En Gedi.
For David and his men, this was a literal oasis in the desert. It served as restoration to their bodies, minds and spirits, and they experienced God’s provision in barren desert, at the lowest place on earth.
That is, only until the word got back to Saul on where David was hiding. Nevertheless, even at that time, when their peaceful haven was about to be invaded, God protected them all the same.
There is so much more to En Gedi than simply a hidden refreshment during the harshness of life.
Like David, if you have been promised greatness, it is to be expected that the seemingly opposite will follow.
David was lied about, rejected, hunted, physically exhausted, emotionally drained, and spiritually empty. When you walk through what feels like the lowest place you’ve ever been to, it is there that En Gedi awaits.
The Lord knows your difficult story, your unwanted journey of survival, and the forgotten promises that He has reserved for you. He is more than able to lead you to a place of full restoration of it all, a place of rest and of hope.
It’s in these tough times that our hearts learn to trust His voice and His leading.
If you are still walking that desert road in the harsh elements, your En Gedi is just ahead. If you are currently lounging by the waterfalls, drink deeply and be restored to strength, knowing you have much greater things to step into. He knows where we are, what we need and where He is taking us.
When you do come to Israel and go to experience En Gedi for yourself, remember those that stumbled in before you, and the palaces that their stories lead to.
This is what En Gedi is for – refreshment and restoration in the midst of a hard journey. But it wasn’t the final destination.